In yesterday’s Commons debate most Conservatives were united against the LibDem call for troops out by October – with the exception of Ken Clarke. Most Tories were also sceptical about the likely success of George W Bush’s troops surge – with the exception of Iain Duncan Smith who, like John McCain, had called for a larger surge more than two years ago.
William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary, on the Prime Minister’s absence from the debate: "According to The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister never attends these debates, whatever the subject.” We now have a Prime Minister who never attends debates, “whatever the subject”. The Foreign Secretary indicated that there was hope for a turning point soon, and that the Prime Minister would then make a statement. Where would the House have been in the second world war if Winston Churchill had only come along when a turning point was in prospect or had been reached? It is sad that the Prime Minister prefers the mentality of the bunker to the open thinking of debate." (Hansard)
Edward Leigh MP invites William Hague to reverse Tory support for the war: "The Conservative party was sold this war on a false premise. We were lied to by the Government. I keep meeting Conservative Members who tell me that if they knew then what they know now, they would have voted against this war. Will my right hon. Friend say that we will not be dragged down into the mire by this discredited Government? The more we attack this war and our presence in Iraq, the more we speak for the British people." Steve Richard’s observations on this intervention in this morning’s Independent: "The Tory backbencher Edward Leigh intervened during Hague’s speech, suggesting that the Conservatives only voted for the war because they had been sold the case on a false premise. Behind him Michael Gove shook his head with an increasing intensity. Hague said he did not entirely agree either and yet I heard the shadow Attorney General make precisely the same claim as Leigh on Radio 4 earlier this month."
William Hague on the LibDems’ ‘troops out’ plan: "A fixed timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would create military inflexibility and give insurgents their own timetable for operations, something that the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), must bear in mind. He must also bear in mind his comment in the House in November 2003: “Nothing could be worse than handing over to an Iraqi Government, however constitutionally founded, a security position that they were incapable of dealing with.” I fear that his proposal for a total withdrawal by October would be a situation that the Iraqi Government would be “incapable of dealing with”, and would bring great bloodshed in its wake."
Ken Clarke on the LibDems’ troops out’ policy: "I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point, and I agree with 99 per cent. of what he has said in his speech so far, but has not he put himself in unnecessary difficulty by putting a precise date—October 2007—on withdrawal? None the less, I prefer that approach to that of the Government, which is to set out a hopeful timetable, all based on the achievement of a level of stability and agreement with the Iraqi Government, which I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is unlikely to be achieved, certainly not in the course of the coming calendar year. Would not it be preferable to insist, which is a strong position, that the earliest possible withdrawal of British troops, consistent with their safety and with the minimising of risk and further disruption, should now be an objective of British policy?"
Iain Duncan Smith in support of George W Bush’s troops surge: "I support President Bush’s desire to put in more troops. Yet I differ with him—this is where I line up with Senator McCain—in that I think that he should have done so earlier, and he should have put in many more troops. I am not sure whether 20,000 troops will be enough. We should be talking about nearer to 50,000 troops if we even want to begin to stabilise Baghdad. That is a real policy: an idea to try to stabilise while giving the Iraqis —[ Interruption. ] Again, I hear a lot of chuntering from the Liberal Democrats. I must tell them that, whether or not they like it, what the Iraqi Government have asked us is, “Please give us time.” If we cut and run before they have time to build up their forces, it is shame on us. I do not think that a British Government worthy of the name should possibly be allowed to cut and run. I ask the Government, when they think this through, to remember some of the words that were said to me when I was in Iraq by many of those who are now in government. They said, “Despite the odds, we think it was right for you to help us, to free us and to give us a chance. Please don’t leave us alone.”
John Bercow intervenes on Iain Duncan Smith about humanitarian interventionism: "Of course my right hon. Friend is right to say that there is a general recognition that we cannot intervene everywhere. However, given the adoption by the United Nations of the responsibility to protect, does he agree that the international community must decide whether that responsibility is to be a serious attempt to avert genocide or simply a rather futile exercise in vacuous moral posturing?" Iain Duncan Smith replies: "My hon. Friend and I agree on the fact that, since the ending of the cold war, there has been time for a rethink of our responsibilities to others who may not directly impact on our daily lives. If we ask people in this country whether they care and want to intervene in such areas, their answer will be absolutely no for the most part, because they do not see what it has to do with them. However, we have a responsibility to try to stabilise areas—I am thinking of many countries—so the idea that there is an absolute, sole and singular British interest that involves only the direct effect on British citizens is wholly incorrect and very damaging to our long-term interests."
Sir Malcolm Rifkind on Iran: "it is one of the great ironies of recent events that the United States and our own Prime Minister have been the single greatest contributors to the emergence of Iran as a hegemonic power in the past few years. Iran traditionally had two opponents in recent times—Saddam Hussein on one side and the Taliban on the other. Thanks to George Bush and our own Prime Minister, both were eliminated without the Iranians having to act in their own interest. But Iran is a serious regional power, and our objection to Iranian policy is not its aspiration to play an important role in the region, to which it is entitled, but its aspiration to acquire nuclear weapons. A response is required by the United States, which has more influence than anyone else, offering not only dialogue with Iran but a serious opportunity of normalising relations—similar to the opportunity that it offered to, and was accepted by, Gaddafi and Libya. If the United States could accept the Libyans after Lockerbie, it should be able to contemplate the prospect of full normalisation of relations with Iran."
Michael Ancram calls for dialogue throughout the Middle East: "The volatility of the whole region is higher than I can ever remember it, and it has the potential to engulf us all. I do not believe that that volatility can be reduced or solved by formula. At the moment, the situation is too grave for that; it is beyond road maps and intricate diplomatic processes. Confidence, which has been destroyed over the past months, needs to be rebuilt, and that, in my view—it may not be a particularly popular view—can be achieved only by dialogue—unthreatening dialogue, exploratory dialogue—across the board and at every level and through every available channel."
Keith Simpson, Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman, on the troops surge: "We were sceptical about the proposal by President Bush of a surge. “Surge” means reinforcements and putting more troops into Baghdad. General Petraeus, the American who is going to be in charge of that, may have made it work two years ago when he was commanding in Iraq. The problem now is that that surge is being seen as having to work in a very limited time scale, and for counter-insurgency operations that is not going to be an option."